hares-recovery

First Contact, Part 1

“This is not how I pictured First Contact.” Casi winced, adjusting her vest. “Not in the most distant possibilities I imagined…”

Jadyn raised his eyebrow. “How do you mean?”

“Greeting a handful of presumably terrified survivors in the cramped embarkation room of a starcutter, while stuck wearing a bulky, itchy, uncomfortable uniform? This is not optimal.”

Casi had donned a mostly standard Commonwealth Fleet uniform. The sleeveless vest-top had been adapted to allow room for her wings, mainly by removing most of the fabric on her back and reinforcing the surrounding seams. Whereas the new Commonwealth Fleet uniforms were generally gray with color offsets representing the duty class, hers was the Councilor’s standard: all white with a cerulean blue stripe running from the neck down her left leg.

“If it’s any consolation, that’s the same bulky, itchy, uncomfortable uniform every Fleet crewman and officer is stuck wearing every day.” He lowered his voice in a mock whisper. “Technically, as the leader, it’s your fault the uniforms suck.”

“I expected a large, yet comfortable gathering,” she continued, ignoring him. “A toast welcoming a new culture into the Commonwealth… And most of all, I expected my silks. But I suppose I will just have to deal with the conditions, as barbaric as they are.”

“Try not to think about it.”

“Oh, come on. That is asking me to not think about a Kattan rhinocedon with a pink teacup and a beret. My discomfort is quite minor beside the discomfort of the people beyond this door, but it is still discomfort.” Casi scratched her neck, straightening the collar of the uniform as an afterthought. “Well. Am I presentable?”

“Lovely as always. I’m sorry about making you put that on, especially knowing how much you hate it. I just don’t think they’re ready to see you in your preferred Speaker vestments. Most of the Councilors weren’t, and most Terrans I’ve met are on par with that. Or worse.”

“Hmph,” she grunted. “At least I can look forward to taking this off, even if I have to wear it in public for the next few months.”

“We’ll get you out of it before then. Have an idea for an adjustment to your silks to make them more… reserved.”

“Absolutely not.

“No?”

“No… Hmph. Perhaps.”

T’bia wandered around the corner, a medkit slung over her shoulder. “Sorry for the wait. Casi ready to greet the survivors?”

“Not me.” She poked Jadyn squarely in the chest. “You. Your ship - your contact. It is… traditional.”

The blue fox frowned. “Traditional? Really?”

“If it was not a tradition before, it is one now.”

“Thanks. I think.” Jadyn poked the door’s keypad, unsetting the lock and opening the door. Heavy scents of sweat and fear poured from the room; the humans had been under a great deal of stress in the last several days. It only made sense they’d reek of it.

“Oh my God,” someone whispered. Everyone else immediately looked to the door. A red-haired woman stood up near the doorway, her eyes jumping rapidly between the three non-humans. She opened her mouth as if to speak, then closed it again and looked over the other crewmembers for guidance.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” Jadyn greeted. “I apologize for the bumpy ride. May I ask who is in charge?”


“Other than the fact your sister runs the place, why did we trek across town just to acquire shampoo?”

The white vixen smirked, her tails lazily drifting to and fro as they waited. “I’ve an entire body to contend with versus that mop on the top of your head. Traize has a long-time friend that makes various personal products tailored with kitsune in mind.”

“Can’t you use ordinary shampoos or… I don’t know, pet products or something?”

“Pet products…?”

“I don’t mean -“

“No, no. Don’t explain. I see that I’ll just have to be satisfied as your prized poodle. Such is life.” Sighing wistfully, she met his eye and let out a laugh. “Both products are aimed at the human consumer. Your own shampoos are designed for your hair and scalps. They’re not really formulated for full body use, despite the marketing spins. Pet shampoos would work but they’ve got medications and pesticides in them that we don’t need nor want. Plus, they’re still designed to smell good to your nose. With our stuff there’s no perfumes or medicinal stink to contend with. It lets natural body scents come through instead of masking them in fake chemical cues.”

“Isn’t the whole point of washing to get rid of those scents?”

“I don’t mean body odor. Subtle scents, things humans can’t entirely pick up on. There’s a lot of nuances to olfactory perception when you’ve got a canid’s nose in mind. Perfumes just… They get in the way, like a heavy, stinky fog.”

“Mm,” he voiced, nodding slightly. “Does scent really give you that much more than vision?”

“Why don’t you have me try to explain sight to the blind, instead.”

“That’s totally different. My nose works just fine.”

“But your brain doesn’t.”

Lenard frowned. “I don’t see what you’re getting at.”

“Right - you don’t ‘see.’ For humans and kitsune both, sight is a major sense. Even our speech is littered with references to vision. You didn’t see what I was getting at. Let’s look into getting something to eat after this. Et cetera. When I say to think about the name ‘Bob,’ you get an immediate idea in your mind about what this hypothetical Bob looks like, don’t you? Normal canid vision is poor by comparison - much more of the brain is devoted for scent processing instead. A true canid would think in terms of what the name Bob smells like, should said canid be capable of such thought.”

“So… Are you colorblind, then?”

“No, I’m not purely canid. My vision does vary depending on what I am. Let’s call my human form a baseline. Generally speaking I’ve normal senses across the board. Once the real me comes out to play, this form here, my hearing and sense of smell grow more intense and focused. Kitsune eyesight is almost as as good as human in good lighting, far better in the dark. And then when I go native, I see, hear, and smell just like a native fox does. It’s not exactly colorblindness - it’s just different.”

“What’s the word… Dichromatic? Two colors?”

“Yes. It’s quite strange after coming from what constitutes ‘normal’ vision for you and I, but it works well enough.”

“Tari!” Traize mock-scolded, emerging from the back room with a box in her arms. “I should turn you in. You’re giving away all our secrets!”

“He’s an inquisitive young man. I’m not going to squelch that virtue by refusing to answer intelligent questions.” Tari snapped her fingers. “Hey, perfect. Tell him about his day so far by his scent cues. I need some help in explaining his inability to smell.”

“And, as the impartial third party, I can tell him details that you’d otherwise already know from being there? All right.” The auburn vixen leaned over the counter and took in a deep breath. “Mm… Don’t blow right in my face, but exhale slightly? Good, thanks. And fluff your shirt a little? Okay. You had oatmeal for breakfast, probably instant, apple cinnamon flavor. Your car’s interior is leather… No, no… A chair you sit in more often than that… A desk chair, I’d bet. There’s a vanilla air freshener in your car, but it’s probably six months old. You two are bunking together and last night you -“

“Whoa! Okay, that’s enough.” Tari laughed. “I think you’ve proven my point.”

“I was only about to tell you which detergent you used last night when you did laundry. Wasn’t going to get into the kinky scents, although I would suggest you both get a bath and erase them from the public record.”

“Wow.” Lenard smirked, shaking his head. “I concede to your superior olfactory prowess.”

Traize dipped her head slightly. “Your surrender is accepted. For the record, you’re also very good at making equipment that is inaudible in your own hearing range and very obnoxious in ours. Do you have any idea how annoying older florescent lights are? Even this antiquated point-of-sale unit is a cacophony of noise that I bet you can’t hear. You’ll also notice I do not have a single dog whistle on the floor that is not in sealed packaging.”

“And I swear, if you ever blow one around me, I’ll make you eat it. This all my stuff?” Tari questioned, peeking into the box.

“Two half-gallon jugs of Maruiko’s body shampoo, four grooming brushes of various sizes, anything else? Squeaky chew-toy to keep Lenard awake all night? Or do you have an effective alternative for inflicting insomnia? I bet it still causes some squeaking.”

Tari made a choking gesture in Traize’s general direction. “Grr! Next time I’ll go to a big box mart. That’ll teach you.”

“You’ll be back. Say…? I’m closing up for the evening pretty shortly. You two want to grab supper or a cup of coffee somewhere?”

“I’d love to, but… Len? Don’t you have a class tonight?”

“I’m free for whatever. Astronomy lab was cancelled. Doctor Maxwell’s sister is on Ares II.”

Tari winced. “And here I’d almost managed to forget about the news…”

“You can’t escape the media.” Traize glanced at a clock on the far wall. “Tell you what. You let me have the TV on, muted, and I’ll put together something palatable for us to munch.”

“Just so long as I can sit facing away from it.”


The red-haired human cleared her throat, stepping forward. “Cordelia Maxwell, Ares II mission commander.”

“It’s a pleasure, Commander Maxwell. Captain Jadyn Elon Tzeki of the Commonwealth Fleet. Welcome aboard my starcutter, the Serin.” He offered his hand; the human reached out in habitual response, hesitating only a heartbeat before grasping and shaking it. “I apologize for the present accommodations and the wait. This isn’t exactly what we had in mind in planning our rescue effort.”

“You’ll have to forgive me, Captain… How exactly did we get here?”

“We have a device which can move matter from one point in space to another - using it, we transported you and most of your cargo out before the ship broke up in the atmosphere. The damage to your ship was extensive, as you already knew. There just wasn’t enough structural integrity left to handle the stresses of being towed. The cargo was reflected to the surface, though we’ll need to move it closer once we drop you off. It’s presently a few thousand kilometers away from the Ares base camp.”

“I see.”

Jadyn moved to the control podium, tapping the surface to wake it up. With a few quick flicks the transporter screens had been replaced by communications controls. “Ares base,” he called. “VTC Serin.

Hughes here. Go ahead.

“I’ve someone up here who I presume would like to speak to you.” Jadyn smiled, briefly reminding himself not to show his teeth. “Commander?”

“This is Maxwell… We’re all here aboard this… ship, all in once piece.”

That’s great to hear, Commander. Captain Tzeki called down just as we watched the Ares break apart that all hands had been safely evacuated. We were a little unsure at first, but it’s good to hear your voice.

“He’s also offered assistance in getting the surviving cargo closer to the base camp.” The commander grimaced suddenly. “I didn’t even think about it - we’re going to have a quarantine issue…”

“This vessel is a sterile environment,” T’bia assured. “We’re all in good health and our transporter filters out any infectious pathogens you may have arrived with. I don’t expect you to take my word for it, but nothing extra should be necessary. Whatever procedures you need to follow as a matter of protocol are your call.”

Commander Maxwell nodded briefly, her index finger trailing over the bridge of her nose as she considered. “Commander Hughes - if you’re acceptable, I’d like to proceed as per the original landing plan, even though most of the plan is out the window since we don’t have our counterpressure suits -“

“Were they in one of the cargo containers?” T’bia asked.

“No, they were in the main ship… But there should have been spares, somewhere.”

Jadyn peered at the skunk. “Cargo move first, then?”

“I think we can spare the time. We wouldn’t want to leave them waiting for the couple of days we’ll be gone.”

He nodded. “Ares base - we’ll start moving cargo containers into your area so you can arrange them as you see fit. The Ares Two crew will be joining you before we go get the first batch. We’ll transport them directly into the main facility, if that is acceptable.”

“I’d like to remain onboard,” Commander Maxwell declared. “I can advise the best way to drop the containers to ease our unpacking schedule.”

“That’s fine.”

Understood. Ares Base out.

Jadyn restored the transporter controls, powering the pad up. “Everyone else, if you’d please stand up, we’ll get you down to your home away from home. We’ll do this in groups of three - a little easier on our equipment.”

T’bia leaned in to the woman as the mass of humans stood up, speaking over the commotion. “Commander… I recall hearing on your radio transmissions that one of your crew was injured in the accident.”

“Yes, this gentleman here. Jonathan West, our doctor.”

The skunk knelt down beside the man and flipped open a scanner. “Mmm… Closed tibia fracture… No problem. I think I can have you walking on the inside of an hour.”

“An hour?” he queried. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Yeah, I know that seems a little long, but this is a delicate process. In any case, we’ll need to go down to our medical lab. I can’t do this right with portable tools.”

“Jon, we shouldn’t impose -“

“It’s no trouble,” T’bia assured them, putting the scanner away. “We’re happy to help.”

“Cora, please. I’m going to be a liability for at least six months, otherwise.”

The red-haired woman sighed, watching the last of her crew vanish from the room. “All right. I’ll come check on you right after we finish with the cargo move.”


“Here we are - sashimi and saki for us, chicken fingers and cola for Lenard.”

“Mm… You broke out the expensive stuff. Fresh tuna, salmon…” Tari glanced at the bottle’s label. “And this… Junmai daiginjo. You trying to get me drunk again?”

“Not full-out sloppy drunk, no. You’re kind of cute when you’re buzzed. Not drinking my saki I can pardon, Lenard… You’ve no idea how much it saddens me that you don’t eat fish. Where are you from? Do they not have large areas of water? We call them ‘lakes’ and ‘oceans.’”

“I just don’t like it that much. Here and there I’ll have a little but I don’t like to sit down and make a meal out of it… Especially not raw.

Tari smirked, popping a chunk of tuna into her mouth as she listened. Traize simply shook her head.

“You’re worse than my last cat. How do you cook beef? Well-done?”

“Medium rare.”

“How about some medium-rare tuna steaks, then?”

“That’s hardly the same.”

Snorting, Traize flipped to a different news feed. “Kids these days, no respect for the finer things…”

“Oh, come on. You’ve got three hundred and twenty-odd years on him.” Tari dredged another piece through horseradish. “Everyone is a kid by comparison.”

“Three… hundred?” Lenard asked quietly. “Seriously?”

“Mm,” Traize murmured, nodding around a sip of saki. “I’m slightly older than Newcomen’s steam engine, the mercury thermometer, and, by some accounts, the modern piano.”

“Incredible. I can’t imagine some of the history you must have seen first-hand.”

She smiled. “Not as much as you might think. I stayed in Japan, mostly, but got restless around Tari’s current age. So, I went and explored the great centers of knowledge across the world, both past and present… Well, present for back then. That was almost a hundred and fifty years ago. A lot’s changed since then. Medicine, technology, literature… It truly amazes me how much history has been lost to the erosion of time.”

“Lucky me to have been born just before the beginning of mass media.” Tari grinned. “Far less is being lost now.”

“Not really. There’s just a lot more information at hand, so it’s harder to see what’s been misplaced. A fair amount still falls through the cracks. Some things remain as constants throughout the years, though. The human spirit for adventure pushes you guys to do amazing things. Placing footprints on new planets is a more remarkable a feat than you may realize, Lenard. Taming fire was a huge leap for prehistoric man - you’re beginning to tame the very cosmos. Hard to light a campfire up there, though.”

“We’ve done some stupid stuff too.”

“Everyone is guilty of that from time to time. What matters is what you do afterward, and I’m afraid that you as a race do tend to compound your stupidity. Humans are terrible about thinking in the long term. Your lives are over in a blink. You’re not concerned about the consequences of your actions beyond a few years - ‘oh, we’ll just leave it for the next generation to clean up.’ Look at what happened to the great rain forests, the old growth trees - hell, all the crap you’ve dumped all over the place, poisoning the land and the water supplies. Hundreds of species of flora and fauna have gone extinct in the last century alone save for frozen samples of reproductive material. The population explosion would have left you critically short of resources had the growth continued. Luckily, you realized what you were doing before it was too late. Eight and a half billion people are still unmanageable in the long term, but at least the number is headed in the right direction.”

“Mm. What do you think is the worst thing we’ve done?” Lenard questioned.

The auburn kitsune sucked air around a fang. “There are two that immediately come to mind - Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I lost a number of friends when those fell.” Traize sighed. “Although, some good did come of it. Tari and I met there, looking over the post-apocolyptic rubble.”

“The sister I never knew I had. You know, I came across another sibling while we were there. We haven’t kept in contact like you and I have.” Tari glanced sidelong at Traize. “Speaking of folks I don’t keep in touch with… How’s our mother doing?”

“Ornery as ever.” A smirk tugged at one side of Traize’s muzzle. “You came up in conversation. You’re a failure as a daughter. I’m not too great either, but you’re just a walking disaster.”

“She just wasn’t too hot as a mother.”

Traize snorted a laugh. “A fire spirit, not hot…”

“Ah, damn! I didn’t even realize I’d said that.”

“Still… I think we’ve done all right for being ‘tainted, worthless, half-breed daughters.’”

“You forgot ‘mongrel,’” Tari added.

“I did, didn’t I… She’ll never admit it but I’m sure she’s just upset at the lack of sons. Wonder if they’ll let her try again.”

“Gods, I hope not.” Tari laughed. “I’d hate to see what her ego would be like if she’d had a son to parade around the Courts. ‘Hey, look at me, I produced a male heir!’ That’ll be the day.”

“Question…” Lenard interrupted. “Are male heirs actually still a status symbol in your society?”

“Well…” Traize scratched her neck. “How much have you been telling him, Tari?”

“Everything by way of nothing. If you’re asking if I trust him, I do. I just haven’t sat down with him to do any sort of mass clarification of the misinformation and mythology I suggested he read up on.”

“Eh… Suppose it can’t hurt anything. Well, Lenard. Males are extremely rare in modern kitsune society. I’d hazard a guess that under five percent of the population at present is male.”

“Really? How many kitsune are there?”

“Ten to twelve thousand spread across the world. Maybe less. It’s hard to keep an exact head count but we do actively keep our numbers low by only allowing for births as fast as deaths occur. Accidents can happen, but it’s rare. It’s far easier to avoid detection in today’s modern society if there’s fewer of us to hide. We really should have given you all a few pointers before you broke the nine billion mark, though… On the bright side, you could always shuffle a couple of billion off to Mars when they finish the terraforming.”

“Sorry, I’m still trying to figure out where the law of averages forgot about you. Five hundred males for ten thousand females?”

“Probably about two hundred, come to think about it. Half of those are crotchety old men. They used to be a quarter of all of us, but the number’s been going steadily downhill. The way things have been going, there will eventually be zero.”

Lenard frowned. “How is that even possible?”

“We really don’t know.” Tari stole one of his chicken fingers and used it to mop up the last of the horseradish. “Part of the reason there’s so much myth and legend out there is that we don’t have many actual facts to work with. The mythology says we are the messengers of Inari, but no one knows exactly how, when, and why we came to be. Maybe Inari created us, maybe not. We’ve lost a lot of ourselves over the centuries. Just because we live for a millennium doesn’t make us better at keeping records.”

“It should,” Traize grumbled. “Some of us do try.”

“Still, a trend like that?” Lenard shook his head. “Doesn’t that make survival of the species… difficult?”

Traize nodded her agreement. “That alone is the reason so many have taken human mates. When male kitsune do appear - especially purebloods - they generally get corralled off as breeding stock.”

“Purebloods?”

“Right, sorry… Uh… Okay. Tari and I are half mortal and half kitsune, since our fathers were both human and our mother is a pureblood. A pureblooded kitsune has no mortal progenitors. We’re… hybrids, I suppose you could call us. It’s a nicer term than the ‘halfbreed’ and ‘mongrel’ we get from the purists.”

“I see.” Lenard tapped his thumb to his forefinger in brief thought. “Is it just a pedigree thing?”

“Purebloods can’t remain in the physical plane without a source of energy to maintain their manifestation. We can, but on the flip side it’s slightly more tedious to get us back to the Celestial Courts, the spirit realm they call ‘home.’ Beyond that there’s a few minor bits, nothing immediately important.” Traize picked up the empty platters and slid them onto the kitchen counter behind herself. “Where was I… Ah, right. So, the males get all this attention. Most of their progeny are daughters. The hope is that they sire another male somewhere along the line while still staying within our population control goals. The running average of all births, last I heard, was ten per year.”

“Which means… A male about once every five years.”

“We’re way off the average on that. The last one I heard of was over eighty years back.”

Lenard massaged his temples. “Makes no sense… I’m pretty sure I was awake for the classes where they explained how the female not having sons is the male’s fault.”

“Because the mother has only X’s and the father has an X and Y?” Traize asked. “You’d be right if we were human. Don’t get me wrong - the little scientific testing we’ve managed to quietly complete shows that we share a great deal of our genetics. There’s very, very little difference between us on the biological level, despite our physical differences and otherworldly abilities -” Traize suddenly peered across the room. “What the hell?”


“Coming up on the site.” Jadyn prodded the thrusters, slowing their velocity. “Where’s this one go?”

“Along side the last one.” The human commander peered out the forward viewport and checked the cargo pod off her list, watching the surface coming toward them. “Amazing. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of raw engine power you’d need to pull maneuvers like this.”

“Unmanageable amounts, until you figure out how to change the gravitational constant into a variable.” He gave her a sideways glance. “What’s on your mind?”

“Frankly? I’m puzzled. How’d you hear about our troubles from forty light-years away when our signals only propagate at lightspeed?”

“We didn’t. My assigned mission was to come and do some final observations, with the intention that formal contact would be established in about five years. If we’d been delayed another half-day in departing, we would have arrived just in time to discover your problems through the headline ‘Ares II lost with all hands.’ Ares Base, container 6-Bravo-1-3-2 is on site.” Jadyn shot her a grin. “We didn’t hear about the accident until we were about three lightyears out.”

“But - that’s still too far for a signal…” She pinched herself between the eyes. “Right. Faster than light travel, so, faster than light comms are a possibility too… But since that wouldn’t let you overhear regular radio chatter propagating at lightspeed, you’ve got some sort of relay station near Earth that bounces our radio signals into your FTL carriers, don’t you?”

“I like you more and more as the day goes on, Commander. Now, I technically shouldn’t answer that. Hypothetically speaking, if I told you that Selene Base was built not five hundred meters away from a very large, innocuous, worthless-looking moon rock buried two meters below the surface, you might feel obliged to tell someone. I’d also point out that the first thing on our original to-do list was to pull it as we went past.”

“I might be inclined to share that, yes… But as I’m thankful we’re not in the bottom of a crater or a trail of ash in the sky, and since I also don’t want to come off as completely ungrateful for the help you’re providing right now? I think this particular hypothetical rock can remain a matter of quiet conjecture, if you’re removing it anyway.”

“Thank you.” Jadyn smiled. “It’s really bad form to keep eavesdropping on a planet we’re trying to open peaceful and honest communications with. It’ll eventually come up in formal negotiations, along with details of our past observation stints. Full disclosure at the outset doesn’t usually go over well.”

“I suppose not.” The woman smirked, leaning back in the copilot chair. Her gaze drifted across the various status readouts as the next container was collected. “I’ve always been sure aliens existed. It just seemed impossible for there not to be anything else out there.”

“You weren’t expecting beings that look like crosses between you and other creatures native to your world.”

“No. Given, I don’t know what I was expecting, but it really wasn’t you. If I had to put a face to it… I don’t know.”

“Aerin, load visual records for mark eleven, twelve, and thirteen simuloids. Main viewer, lower right quadrant.” Part of the screen cleared, pulling up pictures of diminutive gray bodies with impossibly large eyes and spindly arms and legs. “That what you’re looking for?”

“A little. What exactly are those?”

“Crash test dummies.”


5 Responses

  1. Tsunari says:

    Dang it, no fixed point in time where they have to die?

  2. Derek says:

    Evil water creatures possessing the crew seemed a little ‘been there done that…’ ;D

  3. Tsunari says:

    grins lol, whoever said it had to be evil water creatures? You had a fixed point in time of your own in a later story.

  4. Derek says:

    Indeed I did…

  5. Tsunari says:

    Woah, been quite a long time since I last read this one.

 

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